Posted tagged ‘Taft High School’

Relationships Are Key To Organizational Change

October 27, 2010

Anthony Smith, Principal

Laura Pappano an award-winning journalist who has been writing about education for more than two decades has an interesting article in Education Week  titled In School Turnarounds, the Human Element is Crucial.

The article highlights how a troubled high school in Cincinnati Ohio (Taft) turned itself around under the leadership of principal Anthony Smith. From 2001 to 2010 the school’s graduation rate has risen from 25 percent to 95 percent. The percentage of 10th graders scoring proficient or higher in math is up from 33 percent to 96 percent, and from 68 percent to 96 percent in reading. The school, once categorized as an “academic emergency,” the state’s lowest designation, has moved to “excellent,” Ohio’s highest rating.

The key to principal Smith’s success in improving the school was his focus on establishing relationships and building trust among parents, teachers and students. Some key steps Smith took were:

  • Going door to door meeting parents and asking for their support in improving the school;
  • Meeting individually with each teacher in their classroom and asking them what was working and what wasn’t at the school;
  • Establishing a relationship with Cincinnati Bell, a local company that has become a partner to the school in many ways.

The typical response to turning around a low performing school is to remove teachers and other staff and bring in new staff for a fresh start. Smith keep all of the existing staff because “I believe they were good teachers,” he says. “They had lost their confidence. They had lost their spirit.”

As for the students Pappano  states “… because Smith knows many students come from homes that don’t presume college or even a career, he keeps them at school for as many hours as he can, connecting them with teachers, coaches, and even with himself through a study club he runs. He uses sports to push academics (if you want to play, keep your grades up) and combines afternoon practices with homework time, ingraining work habits. He serves breakfast and lunch and wants to add dinner”.

Many change initiatives focus strictly on the importance of performance numbers but connecting with people on an emotional level is critical for turning around any organization. Taft’s principal Anthony Smith understood the importance of connecting with people as a leader and as a result he not only changed the performance numbers people look at for school success, but more importantly he changed the lives of students, parents and teachers.

Is this a textbook approach that others looking to make a difference in their community can learn from?